Sony's flagship phones have been both relentlessly impressive and imperfect for years, and in this Xperia 1 IV review I explain why Sony's 2022 top-end smartphone, which showcases Sony design, screen and camera excellence beautifully, still falls short of perfection.
Is perfection even a realistic goal – are any phones perfect? Well, no – but the Xperia 1 IV is less perfect than many top-end flagships, getting a few basics wrong despite so many wins under its belt.
Let's start with the highlights: this phone's design is strikingly classical. It's elegant, fends off fingerprints and feels rich in the hand. The screen also offers best-in-class clarity thanks to 4K resolution – practically unheard of on smartphones. Sony's even loaded up the camera with a continuous periscope zoom – the first we've ever seen.
It's clear Sony has one eye on the competition – like the iPhone 13 Pro and Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra – and the Xperia 1 IV is more competitive than the Xperia 1 III was last year. The Japanese tech giant has increased max screen brightness, battery capacity, and updated the selfie camera in its new flagship, stacking up much more favourably against the best smartphones of 2022.
Sony Xperia 1 IV: Price and availability
You can buy the Sony Xperia 1 IV right now on Sony's online store or from a host of other retailers. If you want to buy the phone off-contract, the 256GB model has a lofty £1,299 asking price in the UK ($1,599 in the USA).
This is extremely bold pricing from Sony, and while I'm all for excellent Android phones costing their worth in the face of Apple's historically inflated prices, this price tag sets the bar for the Xperia 1 IV very high.
Sony Xperia 1 IV review: Design
Sony has taken an iterative approach when evolving its smartphone design. Over the last three generations of its Xperia 1 flagship, we've seen a tall screen combined with flat sides, a flat front and a flat back.
At the bottom of the phone is a USB-C port and a SIM tray. Sony doesn't require you use a pin to pop out the tray. Instead, there's a groove you can slide a nail under and easily pull it out.
All the phone's buttons are on the right side (when facing the screen) – a volume button, a power button that doubles up as a fingerprint scanner, and a camera button. You can long-press the camera button to fire up Sony's Photo Pro app.
One of the few flagship phones to feature a headphone jack, it's on the top side of the Xperia 1 IV, while around the back is the quad-camera system.
This year Sony brings back the frosted finish, so the Xperia 1 IV matches the iPhone Pro line and Samsung Galaxy flagships when it comes to fending off fingerprints. This complements the matte metal frame well for a cohesive feel. It's not too slippery, so the phone sits well in hand, and the rounded corners nuzzle into the palm comfortably.
Today's Xperia phones are tall thanks to their 21:9 aspect ratio screens, and the Xperia 1 IV is the tallest. Towering above even the iPhone 13 Pro Max when standing next to it, the 1 IV's height makes reaching the top of the phone a stretch. At the same time, the Xperia is narrower than most phones, including the iPhone, so is more manageable in the hand than you might think.
Sony's the OG when it comes to splash-proofing phones, and the Xperia 1 IV can be submerged to 1.5m for up to 30 minutes thanks to its IP68 rating. There's also Gorilla Glass Victus around the front and back, though unlike competition like the fast-charging Realme GT Neo 3 and Xiaomi 12 Pro, don't expect a case included in the box.
In fact, Sony's dialled the Xperia 1 IV's box contents right back, so it consists of just the phone and some paperwork. There's no case, no cable, no power brick. From an environmental point of view, this makes perfect sense. With reduced packaging size, shipping volumes go down as too does Sony's carbon footprint – and that nugget of planet-saving good karma is passed onto Xperia owners. Sony's phone boxes are also plastic-free, made entirely of paper and cardboard.
There are three brands already taking similar action to Sony when it comes to packaging – Apple, Google and Samsung. They've all stopped shipping power bricks with their phones, but Sony is the first to also leave out a charging cable. A step too far? Not for me (and my drawer of USB-C cables), but possibly for others.
Sony Xperia 1 IV review: Display
With a 6.5-inch 4K HDR OLED display, smartphone screens just don't get sharper than that of the Sony Xperia 1 IV.
Despite being almost identical to the Xperia 1 III's screen, Sony has upped the brightness this time around, so the Xperia 1 IV climbs up to 1000 nits when auto-brightness is active. This really helps with screen visibility outdoors when using your phone in direct sunlight.
With its 120Hz refresh rate, menus and feeds float smoothly as you swipe across the Xperia's display. You can manually switch between 60Hz and 120Hz, but Sony doesn't support adaptive refresh rates – so the phone can't switch automatically. This is something most of the flagship competition pack in, including the Oppo Find X5 Pro and Samsung Galaxy S22 Plus, and brings with it potential battery-saving benefits that Sony misses out on here.
With its sky-high resolution of 3840 x 1644, the Xperia 1 IV squeezes 643 pixels in every inch of screen, besting every phone on the market when it comes to clarity. That includes the excellent iPhone 13 Pro and Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra.
Sony is clearly positioning the Xperia 1 IV at content creators given its 'Creator' screen profile mode. This showcases 10-bit colour, displays the BT.2020 colour space, and tunes HDR video to match your environment, taking ambient lighting into account so your movies always look rich in dynamic range.
If you're a fan of 4:3, retro content like emulators and old shows, you might fall out of love with the Xperia 1 IV's 21:9 screen. With big, black bars on either side of your picture, very little of the screen is actually used when displaying it. Most shows are output at Full HD (16:9) – and even that's heavily letterboxed here. On the plus side, 21:9 movies and modern TV shows like Ms. Marvel on Disney Plus look exceptional on the Xperia 1 IV's cinematic screen.
Sony Xperia 1 IV review: Cameras specs
The Sony Xperia 1 IV's camera is the first to feature a true optical zoom on a smartphone in over a decade, so could do with a little more explanation than most.
'Optical zoom' means inside the Xperia's tiny camera module there are moving parts that slide between two points to change the magnification – an engineering feat given how thin and light the phone is.
The zoom camera is part of a quad-camera system that consists of three 12-megapixel cameras around the back and a low-res depth sensor. Going into a bit more detail, the Xperia 1 IV's primary camera is the best-specced of the bunch, with its wide f/1.7 lens and optical stabilisation (OIS) keeping things steady. Sony opted for an ultra-wide camera alongside it with a 124-degree field of view and autofocus, so you can snap near or far ultrawide content.
Onto the star of the show: the zoom camera, which takes you from 85-125mm (roughly 3.5-5.5x zoom), and with an f/2.3-2.8 aperture. While it doesn't reach as far as phones like the Galaxy S22 Ultra, it should deliver consistent quality at more modest zoom ranges.
In addition to the picture-taking cameras, there's a time of flight (ToF) sensor too, which detects depth to help with focus and portrait modes, and on the front of the phone is a 12MP selfie camera.
The Xperia 1 IV has some real videography highlights too. It's the only smartphone that can capture 4K video at an impressive 120fps across all its rear cameras. With no less than three apps for photography and video capture, its software is also engineered for experts – though there is a basic mode too.
Sony Xperia 1 IV review: camera software
The Xperia 1 IV camera software is a lot. There are three camera apps: Photo Pro, Cinema Pro and Video Pro. The first of those captures photos and videos, the second two only capture videos. You'll notice all the apps have the word 'Pro' in their names – that's part of the problem, it's all a bit too 'pro'.
All the photos taken in this review were captured in the Photo Pro app, most in Auto or Basic mode. Auto and Basic aren't the same believe it or not – Basic mode is the only one with an on-screen shutter button, the rest require you use the physical camera button.
Purely in the Photo Pro app, you can switch between Basic, Auto, P, S, M, and MR modes. Photography enthusiasts – we're speaking your language. Novices who accidentally find themselves in M mode with a pitch black picture and no idea what they're doing – you might struggle.
Flagship Xperia camera software is the most powerful of any smartphone – there's no doubt about it. But it's also the least user-friendly in my view. Camera phones today have one main camera app and it's easy to use with clear labels and minimal on-screen clutter. Sony appears to be so wedded to giving its users a Sony Alpha-like experience that mirrors its incredible DSLT and mirrorless camera series' interface, that it's forgotten to keep it simple.
I wish that, when setting up the Xperia 1 IV, I was asked – am I a photography enthusiast and do I want to use Photo Pro? If I answered yes, then Photo Pro would be my camera app. If I answered no, then I could live in a simple touch-to-focus land of on-screen shutter buttons and easy-to-use controls.
Sony Xperia 1 IV: Camera review
The Xperia Pro has a great camera system though. Starting with the main camera, and this is the best performer, especially at night. It takes photos with impressive amounts of detail and low image noise, while Sony's colour balance is enjoyably true-to-life without being muted.
Sony aligns colours across all its cameras well, so switching between the cameras doesn't churn out shots that look worlds apart.
The ultra-wide and zoom cameras are all competitive with many flagships, including the iPhone 13 Pro Max and Samsung Galaxy S22 Plus, though for the crispest photo, you'll want to use the main camera when possible.
What we have to commend Sony for is its telephoto camera magic. The optical zoom does deliver tangible benefits between 85mm and 125mm. While that isn't a huge range right now, it's an impressive feat that photography and technology geeks will likely marvel at.
When the light drops, however, only the main camera does a good job, and there's no night mode to help the others along. As you can see in the gallery of examples above, while the main camera's nighttime snaps look lively and rich, the ultra-wide and zoom cameras take dark photos that miss out on discernable detail.
The Xperia 1 IV shoots video with crisp 4K results, and cramming in everything from eye-tracking to cinema camera-grade control over your settings make the phone a filmmaker's best friend. Night video isn't brilliant though, especially on the ultra-wide and zoom cameras, and the selfie camera crops in very tight when recording video which might throw off vloggers.
The main issue with the Xperia 1 IV's camera, however, isn't its photos or videos, it's overheating.
Sony Xperia 1 IV review: Performance
On paper, there's nothing to complain about when it comes to the Sony Xperia 1 IV's performance. It's powered by one of the mightiest processors around – the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, and it has loads of RAM – 12GB. It's also got up to 1.26TB storage, with 256GB onboard and support for a 1TB microSD card.
Where Sony gets tripped up with the Xperia 1 IV is heat. Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chips don't have the best reputation with heat management when gaming, but Sony's issue is photo and video taking. On a hot hot day – around 33C, we would frequently have our camera app shut down after five minutes so the phone could cool down. This isn't something we experience on other phones, and isn't something we'd expect when paying £1,299 for a top-end device.
Gaming gets the phone warm too, but no more so than the competition, and the Xperia 1 IV's Gamer Enhancer tool helps eke out a little extra enjoyment by dialling out interruptions, firing up performance mode and giving you quick access to screenshots.
Sony also adds live streams to YouTube and easy output to a capture card, though once again, the screen's aspect ratio might make you second guess getting an Xperia for gaming. Some titles aren't well optimised for 21:9 playback, so check some forums or with developers to see which are.
One excellent addition to the Xperia flagship series is Bravia Core. This pre-installed app adds access to loads of movies, old and new, and you also get five credits for premium movies of your choosing with the Xperia 1 IV. We powered through Ghostbusters 1, 2 and Afterlife, all beautifully optimised for the phone's 21:9 display.
It's interesting to see Sony's efforts to make its mobile flagship the sum of the company's parts – movies, imaging, music and more. As of yet, it's still loaded with hits and misses, but we admire the ambition here.
I found the Xperia 1 IV's side-mounted fingerprint scanner to be reliable in my time with it, getting me into the phone quickly.
With speakers on either side of the screen, Sony's phone is loud, and while audio is clear and travels well, it does sound less full than the Asus ROG Phone 6 and iPhone 13 Pro Max.
Running Android 12 with Sony's relatively light UI over the top, the Xperia 1 IV has a clean look to it when swiping through the interface. App support is great thanks to Google Play Store access and Sony is known for doing an impressive job of regularly updating its phones with security patches.
As good as all that sounds, I stumbled upon one too many glitches in the system to call the phone's user experience excellent. The bar at the top with the date and time would occasionally stick and draw over itself, creating strange ghosting. The camera app also failed to save a number of photos I took, until I reset the phone when all the unsaved photos reappeared.
Sony Xperia 1 IV review: Battery and charging
With its 5,000mAh battery, Sony's Xperia 1 IV ups its capacity over its predecessor by 500mAh, and matches phones like the Oppo Find X5 Pro and Xiaomi 12 Pro. In the real world, the phone powered down 80 per cent with the screen on doing basic tasks in around 11 hours and 35 minutes. This isn't class-leading, but is respectable, and backs up my experiences of using it out and about – this phone will get you through a full day of moderate use but unlikely more than that.
While there's no super-fast charging, the Xperia 1 IV does power up at an iPhone-beating 30W, taking it from 0-100 per cent in around an hour and 45 minutes. It also has wireless charging, and Sony's battery care software, which fine-tunes battery charging speeds to reduce degradation over time.
In fact, Sony's position on fast charging is akin to its position on its smartphone packaging – why offer more, when offering less is better for the planet (and likely Sony's bottom line).
Sony Xperia 1 IV review: Verdict
There are moments when I use the Xperia 1 IV and I think to myself – this is lovely, isn't it? Usually when I'm taking a picture or watching a 21:9 movie, or when I'm just admiring the phone's fine-looking design and swiping through its glorious 4K screen. But there are also moments that make me facepalm.
If almost any other phone overheated or threw up software glitches every now and then, we'd struggle to award it four stars. The Sony Xperia 1 IV's counter wins are big enough though, and while they can't overshadow its issues, they can make them justifiable for a certain kind of user.
If you're a Sony fan or an imaging enthusiast who craves camera-grade control over your phone and want to create a masterpiece, then you probably can with the Xperia 1 IV. It goes beyond apps like Filmic Pro to deliver a truly integrated semi-professional camera experience – and the phone can also be used as an external monitor for your mirrorless camera or DSLR.
For anyone who doesn't fall into those categories – Sony fan or imaging enthusiast – the Xperia 1 IV is still a striking phone with some excellent highlights. It just isn't one we can recommend wholeheartedly, especially not at its significant asking price. One thing we do commend Sony for, however, is its take on making its phones more planet-friendly, with its shrunken packaging, reduced box components, tapered charging speeds and battery care technology.
Want to spend a little less on your next smartphone? Take your pick – very few phones are pricier than the Xperia 1 IV. That said, if you like the idea of lots of focal lengths in the cameras arrangement then the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra is the obvious choice.
Alternatively, the Google Pixel 6 Pro is still a zoom champ and has a great primary camera as well as a striking screen, and it costs less than Samsung and Sony's smartphones. Still too much? Save even more pennies with the Realme GT 2 Pro, a flat-screened alternative which enjoys the same internals as the Xperia 1 IV without the heat management issues – just be mindful, it misses out on optical zoom.
If you're wondering how we test our phones here at T3 – or indeed any gadgets, and believe us, we do cover an awful lot – then head over to our How We Test page for the full lowdown on our process and ethics.